Hard boiled crime fiction was the preferred narrational source for film noir.
Born in the lurid pulp magazines of the 1910s, hard boiled crime fiction became one of the most popular form of entertainment (both in fiction and films) from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The most popular of the pulp fiction magazines that offered hard boiled mysteries was Black Mask, which actually started out offering a more classic kind of English-style mysteries, but by the 1920s, it almost only published hard boiled detective stories.
Although the first to write this kind of stories w
as Carroll John Daly in 1923, there’s no doubt that the most popular author was Dashiell Hammett. A former Pinkerton detective, he deliberately sought to write against the polite convention of English-style detective stories and he was so successful at it that the magazine actively encouraged more authors to write in the same vain. Both a popular and critical success, Hammett was praised for the realism of his sparse, stripped-down style and for the way he didn’t ‘hold back’ from sex, violence and the seedy side of life.
Hammett’s stories were among the first to be turned into films (in fact, his The Maltese Falcon, the 1941 version, is considered by many critics to be the first film noir), and together with Raymond Chandler he would not only write novels, but also film adaptations of many film noirs of the 1940s.
Hard boiled fiction represent a significant break away from the classic English-style mystery story. At the centre of these classic stories there was a ‘thinking-machine’ detective who enters a particular context in order to solve a crime. The detective doesn’t belong to the world which had been disrupted by the crime, but his abilities allow him to decode the events (and the world itself), solve the mystery and make that world stable again.Hard boiled writers had a style made to order for the film noir #FilmNoir #AtoZChallenge Click To Tweet
Hard boiled stories work in a completely different context. The detective is normally part of the world he investigates and is affected by it. The crime often involves the underworld, which is an instable environment on its own. The hard boiled detective is nonetheless able to navigate that world even if he doesn’t belong to it. He is often a mediator between the underworld and the law, but this never brings stability, not event to the story, because of the uncertainties about the hero’s identity: is he as ruthless as he looks like? Is he really ready to do anything or does he have some kind of moral code? And if he does, how does his moral code relate to the accepted social rules?
The hard boiled detective is a lot harder to place than the classic mystery detective.
But this kind of ambiguity was exactly what the 1940s tough thrillers were about, and when Hollywood turned to tough moral themes, the hard boiled school was ready to offer conventions of heroes, minor characters, plots, dialogue and themes. Like the German expatriates, the hard boiled writers had a style made to order for the film noir.
Out of the Past (1947) by Jacques Tourneur
Private eye Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is hired by notorious gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his mistress, Kathie Moffett (Jane Greer), who shot him and ran off with $40,000. Jeff traces Kathie to Mexico, but when he meets her he falls in love and willingly becomes involved in an increasingly complicated web of double-crosses, blackmail, and murder. (Rotten Tomatoes synopsis)
Laura (1944) by Otto Preminger
Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) has been murdered. Tough New York detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the killing, methodically questioning the chief suspects: Waspish columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), wastrel socialite Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and Carpenter’s wealthy “patroness” Ann Treadwell. The deeper he gets into the case, the more fascinated he becomes by the enigmatic Laura, literally falling in love with the girl’s painted portrait. As he sits in Laura’s apartment, ruminating over the case and his own obsessions, the door opens, the lights switch on, and in walks Laura Hunt, very much alive!(Fandango synopsis)
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Krutnik, Frank, In a Lonely Street. Routledge, 1991, London/NYC
Schrader, Paul. Note on Film Noir. Filmex (First Los Angeles International Film Exposition), Los Angeles, 1971
Cindy Tsutsumi – 1940s American Film Noir
Quora – What is the etymology of the term “hard-boiled” fiction/detective/etc.?